Tight end is the most top-heavy position in all of fantasy football. With two or three elite options every year, securing one of these studs offers a distinct competitive advantage in most fantasy football leagues on Yahoo, CBS, ESPN and Underdog. Finding exactly where to draft these difference makers in relation to other positions can be the key to drafts. One way to help break down the position is separating players into tiers. This creates an inherent way to rank and value players, similar to traditional fantasy football rankings. With that said, here are the tiered rankings for the tight end position.
Fantasy Football Tiers: 2021 Tight End Rankings
Travis Kelce – TE1
The clear-cut top tight end, Kelce now has five straight 1,000-yard seasons and seven straight with at least 800. He was the recipient of a 25.3% target share and deserves to be viewed among the elite wide receivers in fantasy football.
George Kittle – TE2
After two straight 1,000-yards seasons, injury limited George Kittle to eight games last year. While healthy Kittle accounted for a 24.1% target share. The 49ers are just one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance and may be due for positive regression. However, Kittle is in Tier 2 after San Francisco drafted dual-threat quarterback Trey Lance. He also faces increased target competition in Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.
Darren Waller – TE3
Waller is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons with the Raiders. Waller handled 27.7% of Las Vegas’ targets last year. However, the Raiders continue to trend in the wrong direction and project for just 6.5 wins this year. With limited scoring opportunities and increased attention from defenses, can Waller continue his 2020 efficiency?
Kyle Pitts – TE4
Tight ends in this tier have the ability to climb to the upper echelons but have not for one reason or another. Pitts was drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Last year at Florida he caught 43 balls for 770 yards and has the elite production to back up his testing numbers (4.44 40, elite size). Still, Pitts is an unproven rookie playing a position with a historically long learning curve.
Mark Andrews – TE5
Andrews has 852 and 701 yards receiving in his last two seasons on the NFL’s run-heaviest team. He has been limited by the Ravens’ overall pass attempts, but Baltimore should pass more this year after investing in Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman. However, this also increases target competition for Andrews, raising his volatility.
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T.J. Hockenson – TE6
The tight ends in Tier 4 are due for a substantial uptick in volume or efficiency ahead of 2021 but still have barriers to elite tight end seasons. Hockenson should function as Detroit’s primary pass catcher after the Lions lost Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola this offseason. Unfortunately, they also changed coaching staffs and moved from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff at quarterback. What level of efficiency comes with Hockenson’s increased volume?
Tyler Higbee – TE7
Higbee stands to benefit from the departure of Gerald Everett this offseason. Higbee now has 734 and 521 yards in back-to-back seasons. Now with Everett out of the picture, he could push for 100 targets for the first time in his career. With Stafford also entering the picture, Higbee’s efficiency could rise as well.
Dallas Goedert – TE8
Rumors continue to swirl regarding a Zach Ertz trade, but nothing has come to fruition. Either way, Goedert has already eclipsed Ertz as the Eagles’ primary tight end. Seeing a 16.7% target share, Goedert recorded 524 yards in just 11 games last year. While his overall target share should increase, the offense could feature fewer pass attempts overall with the team moving on from Carson Wentz in favor of Jalen Hurts.
Noah Fant – TE9
Battling through injury during his first two seasons, Fant finished with 562 and 673 yards. He was held back by poor quarterback play and will again deal with some combination of Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater throwing him the ball. With Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy also battling for targets, can Fant see enough volume or efficiency to climb into a higher tier? Whether he can or not, he is a solid mid-round pick.
Logan Thomas – TE10
This tier consists of players with just one year of production or a tenuous grasp on their role as the primary tight end. Thomas emerged as Washington’s primary tight end after a late-career position switch. Thomas finished with 72 catches for 670 yards on a 19.2% target share. This year Washington upgraded quarterback with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they also added target competition with Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown. Can Fitzpatrick’s potential uptick in efficiency offset a drop in target volume?
Irv Smith – TE11
Smith stands to see an increase in target numbers with Kyle Rudolph leaving in free agency. Coach Mike Zimmer has also been clear about limiting Smith’s role. However, with Rudolph hurt last year, Smith played at least 79% of snaps in the final three games. A tenuous role on a run-first offense keeps Smith locked in Tier 5.
Mike Gesicki – TE12
Gesicki finished with 53 receptions for 703 yards last season. Playing mainly out of the slot, Gesicki looks unlikely to repeat his 16.3% target share. The Dolphins added target competition in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. The also drafted Gesicki’s theoretical replacement in Hunter Long.
Evan Engram – TE13
Like Gesicki, Engram had an inefficient 2020 catching 63 balls for 654 yards on a 20.8% target share. This offseason the Giants added Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Rudolph. Can Engram make up for reduced targets through efficiency?
Robert Tonyan – TE14
Perhaps the most likely to jump a tier outside of Thomas, Robert Tonyan faces the easiest path to targets. The Packers drafted only Amari Rodgers, so Tonyan’s only legitimate target competition comes from Davante Adams. Still, Tonyan may play without Aaron Rodgers this year. With one year of production and a volatile environment, Tonyan is parked in Tier 5.
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Rob Gronkowski – TE15
The sixth tier plays a consistent but limited offensive role or faces a steep learning curve. Gronkowski was in the fifth tier but now headlines the sixth tier because of target competition. He not only has to compete with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown for targets, but he also competes with Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard at his position.
Anthony Firkser – TE16
Unlike Gronkowski, Firkser’s path to targets cleared with the departure of Jonnu Smith. However, Firkser has never played more than a part-time role with the Titans. Last year marked a career high in receptions (39) and yards (387). Will the Titans expand his role or continue to rotate him?
Hunter Henry – TE17
Henry looks unlikely to repeat his 60-catch, 613-yard season with Smith also in the picture in New England. However, the Patriots may just use two tight ends as their base package. The Cam Newton/Mac Jones quarterback battle also adds volatility.
Adam Trautman – TE18
Jared Cook vacates 60 targets, but the Saints also signed blocker Nick Vannett. Trautman played 39% of the snaps and saw 16 targets last year. He surely will see more, but just how much?
Austin Hooper – TE19
Hooper played 78% of the Browns’ snaps last year and received a 19% target share. This equated to 46 catches and 435 yards in Cleveland’s run-first offense. Hooper must hold off Harrison Bryant and David Njoku for continued relevance.
Jonnu Smith – TE20
Smith gets the same analysis as Henry, except he has not produced at the same level to this point in his career. Last year he caught a career-high 41 balls for 448 yards in 15 games.
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Eric Ebron – TE21
This tier faces significant target competition or barriers to a full-time role. Ebron played 73.5% of the snaps last year, but Pittsburgh drafted his replacement in Pat Freiermuth.
Jared Cook – TE22
Cook enters a Chargers tight end room with Donald Parham and rookie Tre’ McKitty. Will he see more than the 60 targets he received in New Orleans last year? If so, he could jump a tier.
Gerald Everett – TE23
Everett left the Rams to join the Seahawks. He caught a career-high 41 balls for 417 yards last year, but now he must compete with Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson.
Blake Jarwin – TE24
Coming off an ACL tear, Jarwin will compete with Dalton Schultz. If one can separate, they could be poised for a big year in a Dak Prescott offense.
Cole Kmet – TE25
The Bears continue to give Jimmy Graham snaps and targets, stunting Kmet’s growth.
Zach Ertz – TE26
The subject of trade rumors, Ertz would benefit from a change in scenery.
Jordan Akins – TE27
Deshaun Watson looks unlikely to play this year, removing any semblance of efficiency from the Houston offense.
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